Terms & Conditions

I’ve a few conditions. I won’t list them today as then I would have to get into terms and I don’t want to be writing about terms and conditions.

But anyway one of the conditions I have is very bad. Absolutely chronic and although it’s not terminal for me, it can make other people around me feel as though something terminal is imminent for them.

I suppose, in a way, it’s quite a handy condition. There’s worse.

I’m not the only one who has RBF – it’s been written about before – but I’m not sure if it’s ever been pointed out by fellow sufferers that it’s a sneaky syndrome because it tends to interact with other afflictions. (RBF – that’s Resting Bitch Face, btw, is a chronic condition that flares up in me when I’m feeling a bit shite)

Unlike RBF, there is a clinical name for “feeling a bit shite” but I don’t care to use such terms when describing MY conditions.

There’s too many labels around these days I think. I go to bed for a while and shut up.

Usually, when I emerge from the bed and re-enter society I can be a bit green around the gills for a few days afterwards. In other words, I have a fierce bad case of RBF and if you didn’t know who I was and you passed me on the street you might say: “Jesus yer one looks miserable.”

You’d be half right.

Sometimes people cross the road my RBF is so bad. I can’t help it mostly.

Yesterday I went into town after a few days of Ts&Cs and I hit for the bookshop for a bit of retail therapy. It was a fine afternoon spent in one of my favourite shops browsing quietly and ignoring absolutely everybody except the books whose blurbs called to me. Trouble was too many of them started calling to me and I have only a finite bank balance so I went to pay before I let myself get tempted by yet another rogue tome.

Even in full health, I wouldn’t be known for my quick reflexes so when the nice man behind the till called “next please” I hesitated for a few seconds and a woman darted in front of me with a great welcome for herself.

And what a welcome. She was a loud type and I might have looked at her askance on account of it. Ok, I probably glared at her (accidentally) and she possibly felt the burn of my stare (even with the mask) like the branding of two hot coals on her back, because it suddenly dawned on her that she had skipped the queue.

“Oh dear I skipped the queue I think,” she breathed, all clammily chummily at the nice man behind the desk, “I can feel I’m getting daggers here!”

Well, I can tell you the RBF ramped up by about 500% when she came out with that. We RBF sufferers cannot stand passive aggression in any form.

The nice man told her she was “entitled” and, of course, she agreed. He meant it positively.

Not two metres away, I stabbed my PIN 1-2-3-4 on the cash machine, purchased my books, and left without looking at her purchase pile – probably self-help books; she looked the type.

I’ve no doubt she got a receipt.

One can never be too careful of the Ts&Cs.

Pre-Christmas jitters, defrosting Michael Bublé

Oh, the weather outside was… briefly not frightful, so we decided to venture into town en famille, as they say in Europe – although Dad pulled a Boris and disappeared, as he didn’t have to go shopping, get out of the house, or get his hair cut.

I had all my Christmas shopping done since the second week of December, if not the week before. I’m not trying to brag, but I’m a very efficient shopper; every last browse is done studiously, and with intent – either to purchase or reject. The Secret Santa is sorted, the friends’ presents are ticked off, and I even managed to buy a few things for myself in the process. Most of the time, my shopping is just window shopping because I don’t have the disposable income of Paris Hilton, for example. I prefer to spend money on social stuff or on my stomach, so I find the mad Christmas shopping rush a bit of a shock to the system.

Shopping for the sake of shopping is depressing; it’s like eating your greens because you were told to, because that’s what’s “good for you”, instead of being taught to appreciate the slightly nutty taste of perfectly cooked broccoli, or indeed maturing to appreciate the look on someone’s face as they unwrap something genuinely unexpected and thrilling from you. Nobody can tell me capitalism doesn’t “hit different” during these moments. Those few golden hours with family – if you are lucky enough to have them – make the whole nauseating build-up to the 25th worth it. It is really only then that consumerist xmas becomes Christmas.

My family has a tradition that involves the four of us going into town to either look at the lights or do a bit of last-minute Secret Santa shopping a day or two before Christmas Eve. This year was different, and not just because of NPHET’s/government’s shock announcement mere hours before the big red fella was due to arrive that Christmas was cancelled. I was gutted. Not Christmas! We had to cancel our family dinner on Christmas Eve afternoon in town, which was only feasible in the first place because my brother wasn’t working that day. Granted, we weren’t as badly hit by the new restrictions as some families were, but it was still bloody lousy. Critics of our dear neoliberal government were complaining that xmas wasn’t cancelled as shops were allowed to stay open, thus propagating the consumerist agenda and, god forbid, saving the economy. (Has it occurred to any of these people that we are the economy? Or at least we are what’s good about it. I wonder when will the penny drop…). Like good little slaves to the machine, Mum and I ventured into the city and the shops for one last look before Christmas. “If cases keep rising at the current rate, we’ll have everything locked down in January,” said my Mum prophetically. As I write this, shops have all closed again, so we didn’t even get to January.

As a family, we have all coped with these cyclical lockdowns in different ways over the past year. Just like everyone else, we have had no choice but to mould our lives around lockdown. My brother still works, my Dad invents pet project after pet project in the garden/farm, and my Mum has started a course and learned how to use Zoom. I have done nothing; I am the same as I was last year, no worse and no better. Hopefully, this year will be different, but hope is not a currency I am particularly rich in at the moment – not that I’m rich in any of the currencies. My MA ended abruptly, and my classmates and I were left without contact teaching hours to do our final projects. I was hoping that doing a final project on journalists and academics working through lockdown might help me on my way to becoming a journalist, but I was stuck at home for most of it, and so I’m more confused about the industry now than I ever was. My interviewees were definitely concerned too, and I had very interesting conversations with them about their work, but, looking back on it, I should have chosen a lighter topic like “Puppies!” or “If It’s Not Good News I Don’t Want to Know About It” or even something less depressing to me personally, which still would have left room for all those grisly topics journos love – like war, murder, violence, how cow farts are killing the planet, abuse, white-collar crime, Mayo losing another All-Ireland…

Or I could have copied my Dad, who has taken a recent special interest in ridding our driveway of moss using the rather unorthodox method of pouring box after box of washing powder all over the drive until it resembles a Winter Wonderland. He’s out there every day sprinkling scented snowy powder murdering moss and lichen alike as happily and ruthlessly as a culchie Pablo Escobar. The garage is full of evidence; piles of used powder boxes stacked high like cartel coffins. I don’t know why he doesn’t just let the moss live. If it survived 2020, it can surely survive Dad’s notions.

He has Mum adding “washing powder x 3” to her shopping lists, and she goes out into the big, bad, pandemic-ridden world to source it for him, a dangerous mission but she is a good mule. Her car even has tinted windows. I went along with her on one of these powder-buying trips recently – it was before the Christmas but still well into xmas, so town was mad busy. We agreed we’d split for a while so she could go incognito for culchie Pablo. I met up with her again in a second-hand clothes shop down the town. Mission abandoned, she was ferreting in the shop’s far corner by the time I eventually fought my way through crowds of cheerful shoppers to get to her. I was in, by my own admission, a bit of a fouler, thanks to xmas. Grumpily, I put on my mask, and my glasses fucking fogged up the minute I entered the shop. “I’ll wait for you out here, I can’t see a thing,” I told her and made for the door, but it was too late; she had ferreted something out and wanted my opinion. “For you maybe?” she said, and I looked through the one bit of fog-free lens I had at what she had in her hand, to humour her, like. It was a bit meh – a grey pinafore thing that a geography teacher might wear.

“Mmm,” said my mother, thinking aloud, “Might be a bit slim for you… No, I’ll put it back.” I snorted my disapproval underneath my mask. “You don’t like it?” she said innocently, turning to follow me out of the shop. Well, not anymore I thought, this time adding to my initial appraisal that not only was it the sort of garment a geography teacher might wear, it was also the sort of garment that a geography teacher who never ate carbohydrates after 6pm unless she was “being naughty” would wear. I couldn’t be doing with that. We went home; somehow, she managed the drive with her foot in her mouth. The backseat was laden with boxes of washing powder, and the two of us, xmas’d out of it, were probably wondering how on earth the four of us would get through the covid-Christmas.

We are through the other side now, ready to face into 2021 in lockdown. Our driveway will be moss-less, but at least my wardrobe is thankfully pinaforeless. It’s time to stick Micheal Bublé back in the freezer until next xmas and declare a nationwide moratorium on Dry January. Happy New Year, I think…

Costa del Penneys, hun

I’ve forgotten what phase of lifting coronavirus restrictions we are meant to be in – is it two or three? – but I know that shops and businesses have begun to open again. There are more people out and about and the town is almost back to its old self, which is heartening to see.

The only indication that we haven’t fully emerged from the corona-Matrix is the abundance of mask-wearing folk queueing carefully, if slightly impatiently, outside shop premises. That and the amount of hand sanitiser stations businesses have hastily erected to comply with the government’s orders. If capitalism is to survive corona it must be a capitalism that is caring and compliant – and clean. Squeaky clean.

Penneys (aka Primark) kept everyone waiting for its reopening, which happened late last week – once again I don’t know the exact date because all the days are bleeding into one at the moment.

It might have been a Friday. Whenever it was it was a momentous occasion and one that will certainly go down in Irish consumer affairs history. For those who don’t know Penneys, it is a shopping institution for Irish people – young and old. It’s cheap and does nice clothes, shoes, home decor-type stuff, and cosmetics. And we love it. Penneys is dependable, affordable, and, for many people, including myself, it allows us to access high street fashion on a low budget.

Forget your Chanels, your Guccis, your Dolce & Gabbanas; Penneys can always be relied upon to stock cheap rip-offs of the trends we lust after on the catwalks. It has democratised fashion in a sense by making it so easily accessible, and we didn’t realise we had a good thing going until it closed all its branches when coronavirus came calling.

Now that the popular franchise has reopened all its stores people are flocking to them in, perhaps unsafe, numbers. With that in mind, the Irish Times despatched consumer affairs correspondent, Conor Pope, to vox pop those brave first few hundred Penneys customers.

His vox pops which were done outside one of the franchise’s many Dublin shops formed an article that was an amusing portrayal of Irish consumers. Most of the people Pope spoke to were women, and, unsurprisingly, they were all hardcore Penneys fans.

To Pope’s dismay, most had been queueing outside the shop since the small hours that morning. (The article is available on the Irish Times website – you’ll have to go through the paywall – but, fear not, you’ll be charged less than the cost of a pair of socks from Penneys to read it, and others.)

I got the sense – and I could be wrong – that Pope isn’t a hardcore Penneys fan. If one could measure such a thing as love for Penneys, I’d say Pope might be a 2 or a 3. He’s ambivalent. The people he interviewed would be all 10s or 11s. I’m a five; I like the place and I buy most of my clothes and other “bits” from it but would I drag myself out of bed at 5am in the middle of a pandemic to queue for it to open? Not a chance.

From the looks of things, most people agree that anyone who did queue the first day was a bit bonkers. By “the looks of things,” I mean Twitter, of course, which is where I read all the takes on Penneys reopening.

The computer-bound commentariat was saying all manner of things about the crazy queuers, most of which revealed its own craziness. Some people were getting mad about the classist tone to some of the comments; others were castigating the shoppers for their “selfishness” and lack of adherence to social distancing rules. Most people were simply taking the piss.

It’s easy to take the piss out of the Penneys huns, but where will these piss-takers be when its the weekend before they’re finally allowed to return en masse to their offices? Why, in Penneys, of course. They’ll be eyeing up the shirts; they’ll be stocking up on hosiery, and they’ll have that dazed look on their face – a look that says I don’t remember the last time I felt so ordinary.

Perhaps then it might dawn on them that they have been taking Penneys for granted all these years pre-corona. For some, Penneys is just a useful one-stop-shop kind of place to pick up socks and jocks, but for others, it is an enjoyable place to spend time in. They wander around looking and rifling through crowded rails for a bargain or they make a beeline for that black t-shirt that they need for work, perhaps stopping to pick up some extra bits on the way to the checkout where an automated voice calls “Cashier number four,” and so on, ad nauseam until the queue is gone.

I suppose our enduring love of – and reliance on – Penneys is a laughing matter to some. You might call them classist snobs, or, perhaps, Dad. I certainly smiled more than once at the jokes being made at the expense of all the people queueing outside Penneys shops around the country last week, but some took the jibes too far.

We are all looking forward to different once-familiar experiences on emerging from lockdown, and, to a lot of people, Penneys is one of these experiences. So, yeah, Penneys is a franchise that relies on cheap labour from poorer parts of the world to supply stock to us greedy consumers but it is not the only franchise that does this – and one can hardly place the blame for this on the shoulders of the several thousand queuers last Friday (or whenever it was).

They were just ordinary people excited to be excited about something normal for the first time in the months since the pandemic changed their lives. Who would begrudge anyone the chance, now a privilege, of picking up “a few bits” in town now we’re doing better? Nobody’s going anywhere else this Summer, after all.

See youse in Costa del Penneys – the panacea for what ails us.